Suspect in soldier killings given back to Iraqis
December 16th, 2011
03:20 PM ET

Suspect in soldier killings given back to Iraqis

By Sarah Aarthun and Adam Levine

A Lebanese militant accused of involvement in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq was handed over to Iraqi authorities Friday after U.S. officials received assurances that he will be brought to trial, according to a White House spokesman.

Ali Mussa Daqduq has been in U.S. military detention in Iraq since 2007 as an "enemy combatant." His case had become a tug of war between Iraq and the Obama administration as the Iraqis gave no indication they would allow Daqduq to leave the country.  The case became even more urgent in recent weeks as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq neared completion. Daqduq could not be held without trial once the U.S. mission ended - a milestone that was officially marked Thursday during a ceremony in Baghdad.

Tommy Vietor, the White House National Security Council spokesman, acknowledged Friday the difficulties in negotiations, noting that discussions continue to determine "with the Iraqis the best way to ensure that he faces justice."

Daqduq was accused of organizing a kidnapping in the Iraqi city of Karbala in January 2007 that left five U.S. soldiers dead.  After he was captured months later, Daqduq pretended to be a deaf-mute, according to U.S. intelligence officials.  But officials identified him as a 24-year veteran of the militant group Hezbollah who had commanded a special operations unit and been sent to Iraq to develop "Special Groups" within the Shiite militia. FULL POST

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Filed under: Iraq • Terrorism
December 16th, 2011
02:05 PM ET

Karzai: War is not won yet

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai tells CNN's Fareed Zakaria that while there is general stability in Afghanistan, "we have not been able – the United States, NATO and Afghanistan government together – to provide the Afghan people with their individual personal security. That is yet to come."

Karzai made the comments during an exclusive interview that will air on GPS this Sunday at 10a.m. and 1p.m. EST. He was responding to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent assertion that "we're winning this very tough conflict in Afghanistan."

Panetta backtracked on that optimism a few days later saying, "we have not won, we have not completed this mission, but I do believe we are in the process of making significant progress here, we have seen reduced violence, we have seen our ability to weaken the Taliban significantly to the point that they have not conducted a successful attack to regain territory."

Karzai also talks with Fareed Zakaria about why he can no longer talk to the Taliban and tells GPS how he intervened in the case of a woman who was imprisoned after she was raped by a close relative.

See a preview on the GPS blog

Filed under: 10 years of war • Afghanistan • ISAF • Kabul • Karzai
Manning lawyer questions how sensitive leaked files really were
Supporters of suspect Bradley Manning protest outside Ft. Meade
December 16th, 2011
12:39 PM ET

Manning lawyer questions how sensitive leaked files really were

By Larry Shaughnessy reporting from Ft. Meade

Update: The investigating officer has denied defense request to recuse himself from overseeing the proceedings.

After a recess of more than two hours on the first day of PFC Bradley Manning’s first crucial court hearing since he was accused of leaking thousands upon thousands of classified Defense and State Department documents, Manning’s attorney said “this case rises on falls on whether information was properly classified.” (our ongoing story on the proceedings can be found here)

David Coombs point is that if Manning did leak any documents, they are documents that should not have been classified.

It’s a point that none other than former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to support during a news conference shortly after Manning’s arrest.

"Problems identified and the issues raised in these documents relating to the war in Afghanistan have been well known in and out of government for some time," Gates said in 2010.  "These documents represent a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old, devoid of context or analysis. They do not represent official positions or policy. And they do not, in my view, fundamentally call into question the efficacy of our current strategy in Afghanistan." FULL POST

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Filed under: Bradley Manning • Legal • WikiLeaks
Pakistan insists NATO attack was deliberate
December 16th, 2011
11:31 AM ET

Pakistan insists NATO attack was deliberate

Pakistan is sticking by its contention that the NATO strike last month that killed more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border was deliberate.

In an effort to pre-empt the results of NATO's official investigation, due out next week, the Pakistani embassy invited reporters for a detailed briefing to present their side of the story.

Pakistani officials contended that NATO forces knew they were firing at Pakistani troops throughout the attack and even apologized as they kept firing, evidence which they say supports their claims the attack was deliberate.

U.S. officials have said since the attack that it was a regrettable case of mistaken identity and miscommunication when NATO attacked the area in support of a nearby U.S.-Afghan joint patrol which believed it was under fire from the Taliban.

"I have a story to tell and this is the story of those brave people who left us in the middle of a cold, November night on a barren mountain top," a senior Pakistani defense official began.

Using maps, photographs and PowerPoint charts, he offered a painstaking re-creation of the incident from the Pakistani military's point of view, based on interviews with surviving troops and local residents where the attack took place.

He and other officials at the briefing spoke on the condition of anonymity, preferring for their military and civilian leadership in Pakistan to speak on the record. FULL POST

December 16th, 2011
10:26 AM ET

Radioactive material bound for Iran seized in Moscow

Russian authorities seized radioactive material from the luggage of a passenger on a flight from Moscow to Tehran on Friday.

The luggage, belonging to an Iranian citizen, contained 18 metal objects packed in individual steel cases, Russia's Federal Customs Service said in a statement. The agency said the material, the radioactive isotope sodium-22, can be obtained in a nuclear reactor.

Initial tests showed that radiation levels of the objects were 20 times above normal, the customs service said.

The Russian atomic agency Rosatom, however, said sodium-22 is exclusively used for medical and scientific research and does not have a high radiation level. Rosatom contradicted the custom agency's claim that the material can only come from a nuclear reactor.

Radiation expert Paddy Regan, a professor at England's University of Surrey, said the material was unlikely to present a major radiation hazard. He said sodium-22 can be made in medical accelerators and is usually not produced in reactors. It is also not used in reactors as a component of fuel.

The Federal Customs Service said the objects were sent to a Moscow prosecutor's office that deals with air and water transport.

A criminal investigation is under way. The whereabouts of the Iranian passenger was not immediately clear.

Filed under: Iran • Nuclear • Russia
December 16th, 2011
10:10 AM ET

BREAKING: Wikileak suspect wants recusal

From Brian Todd and Larry Shaughnessy at Fort Meade

A hearing for Bradley Manning, the Army private suspected of being behind the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history, began Friday morning but almost immediately went into recess after Manning's attorney asked the investigating officer to recuse himself.

Attorney David Coombs said Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, the presiding officer, should step down.

Among Coombs four objections was that Almanza, an Army reservist, had a conflict of interest with his civilian job with the Justice Department, which is investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks posted hundreds of thousands of classified documents on Afghanistan, Iraq and diplomatic exchanges.

The United States accuses Manning, who turned 24 on Saturday, of violating military code, ranging from theft of records to aiding the enemy.

The latter charge is likely, experts say, to land Manning in prison for life. But, if a general sees fit, the law allows that Manning could be eligible for the death penalty.

Manning's Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing that will determine whether enough evidence exists to merit a court-martial, was expected to last a week but could be delayed if Almanza recuses himself. FULL POST

Capt. Shannon Meehan (Ret.)
December 16th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

For these veterans, Iraq is a never-ending war

EDITOR'S NOTE: Barbara Starr's conversation with Iraq war veterans, "Home from Iraq," can be seen throughout the day on CNN this Saturday, December 17.

Watch the discussion about whether the war is over for these vets here, another conversation about the invisible wounds they suffer here, and a third piece about how they feel disconnected from Americans here.

By Barbara Starr

When we walked into the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Virginia, an elderly African American veteran of World War II came up to me and said "I take my hat off to these young folks today."

At the age of 87, his war now fading from perhaps too much of the American conscience, his worry was not about himself, but about his young brothers in arms. Veterans of today's war are young enough to be his great grandchildren. On a cold rainy day, tapping his cane, he came out in the bad weather. He wanted to meet the Iraq veterans we had assembled.

The Shakespeare "band of brothers" quote is tossed around all too frequently these days, but over the next two hours at that VFW hall, I would once again see that unbroken bond that exists among those who have gone to war for this country, whether it was 1941 or 2001.

At this VFW post, five veterans of Iraq joined me to talk about the war just as the curtain is coming down after nearly nine years of conflict. All have suffered greatly from post traumatic stress. Not surprisingly, while they are deeply conflicted about the war, all five express concern about fellow veterans and why today's vets are still not getting all the help they need with health care and jobs. The veterans I spoke with make it clear that for them the war in Iraq is not over.